By DAVID BOYLE
At its most recent board meeting, the Anchorage School Board decided to ask voters to build a brand-new Inlet View Elementary School at a cost of $50 million.
For several years the debate has centered on whether to remodel the current Inlet View School or build a completely new school.
In the previous 2022 election Anchorage citizens cast their votes against building this new school. It seems voters did not like the total cost of the bond.
The 2022 election had an ASD bond on it that totaled $111 million, including $31 million for a new Inlet View School. Other vital projects included roof repairs and necessary security updates such as secure vestibule entries.
Unfortunately, the district jeopardized these vital maintenance and security projects by combining them with a new Inlet View School.
However, in the 2023 election voters did approve a $38 million school bond for the necessary roof repairs and security improvements.
At a school board meeting, several people testified for and against the rebuild of the Inlet View Elementary School. One person questioned the wisdom of building a two-story school in the highest earthquake zone, Zone 5, in Anchorage.
State Rep. Zack Fields opined that, “There are anti-education special interest groups that will use any opportunity to attack public schools. The haters will interminably repeat the lie that remodeling is cheaper.”
Yet the numbers say exactly that — $24 million remodel vs $50 million rebuild.
You read that correctly: The alternative to building a new Inlet View School is to remodel the current school at a cost of $24 million — less than half of the cost to build a new school.
But the administration stated that if the school were remodeled, there would be added costs in the next 15 years. These additional costs would bring the total to about $48 million.
Of course, the administration offered no data to back up this opinion and board members did not ask the question.
Now, the school board is going down the same road with its strategy of combining necessary and vital roof repairs and security upgrades with the building of a new Inlet View School.
The choice given voters is a Hobson’s choice — take the bad project with the good project.
This will be a very hard sell to voters. They rejected the Inlet View rebuild in 2022. And yet the district risks vital upgrades to appease the Inlet View neighborhood.
What the district may not tell voters is the total cost of the Inlet View rebuild. That will be nearly $50 million. The bond will only list $18,998,200. Here is a breakdown from the ASD capital project list:
Board member Dave Donley offered an amendment that would provide the voters with information about the total cost ($50 million) and the specific funding sources. Donley’s amendment failed due to no second.
Why wouldn’t the district want to honor one of its values — transparency?
In the above chart, board memo 151s allocates $26,158,119 of remaining State funding to the rebuilding of a new Inlet View School. This money could also be used to fill in the very deep budget hole, which is $95 million, according to the district, rather than building a new school.
Board member Donley moved to separate the bond into two bonds. One would be the rebuild of the Inlet View School and the other would be the remaining vital roof repairs/security upgrades. Donley is concerned that combining the Inlet View School with the other projects would jeopardize the entire bond, just as it did in the 2022 election.
His motion did not receive a second, so it failed.
So, the board will present the bond to the Assembly in December. This is similar to the one two years ago with a higher cost and a nicer ribbon wrapped around it.
And the rest will be up to the voters.
Would you rather dig a deeper budget hole for the school district by spending $50 million on building a new elementary school while the number of students is declining rapidly?
Or would you rather remodel the current elementary school at half the cost? The decision is up to you, Anchorage voters.
David Boyle is the education writer for Must Read Alaska.